Wednesday, September 02, 2009

No Prize For An Unblemished Record

STATUS: Tomorrow I head to Hawaii for the Hawaii Writers Conference. It’s a tough job and somebody has to do it and I’m always happier doing it in Hawaii. Grin.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FAMILY AFFAIR by Mary J. Blige (now that I've learned how to code it down to a small playbox, I'm going to try putting it right under the iPod song--just in case you want to listen while reading.)

I’ve actually been mulling in my head how to write this entry. The reason? I don’t agent the same as all other agents so it’s hard to talk about percentage.

For example, in comparison to a lot of other agents, I don’t sell a lot of books in any given year. I’ve never have—even when I started seven years ago. I’m very selective about the projects I take on.

Earlier in my career when I was still feeling out my tastes and what I really wanted to represent, I had a much higher percentage of books that didn’t sell (especially when I was doing nonfiction titles—which I’m hopeless at and hence why I just rep fiction).

When I became more comfortable in the fiction realm and knew exactly what works for me and what works for the editors, my percentage of projects sold drastically increased. I’m going to assume that what is of most interest to blog readers is the percentage of projects sold for new clients (or debut authors) who haven’t been previously published.

For me, I’m looking back on the last two years and my percentage is almost 100% of what I took on sold. Now this sounds like I’m tooting my horn and other agents aren’t good as I am but that’s not what I’m trying to say (although it could be true, I really don’t know). There may be another way to look at this. Maybe I’m not taking as many risks. I don’t perceive it that way as I only take on the stuff I love but maybe that’s it.

Maybe other agents take on a higher percentage of projects because they are at bigger agencies and have to meet sales quotas. Maybe other agents take on more because they get paid on commission only and bills need to be paid (so the higher percentage they take on, the more likelihood that % number of projects will sell). Maybe other agents take on more simply because they love more stuff then I do (have a broader range in their tastes) and not all of it can sell. Maybe other agents are newer to agenting and still feeling out their tastes and what works best for them to sell.

I haven’t got a definitive answer here.

But what I can say because of yesterday’s entry, my record is not a 100% this year!

Now what’s interesting is that when I took on this author, I knew it wasn’t going to be a slam dunk sale. It’s a work that genre blends so didn’t fit squarely into one place or the other (always harder to sell). Also, this work was something very different for me to rep; it was going outside my “box” so to speak (although I like to think I don’t have a box and I’m open to anything as long as the voice is there). And, to top it off, an earlier version of this work had been shopped previously by another agent. We did a major revision and took it out again. Both the author and I knew what we were up against. If I don’t challenge myself now and again, what’s the point? This work is good; it deserves to sell. This week, we were “this close” to selling it before getting shot down in the agony of defeat.

And if I can’t sell this one, chances are really good I’m going to be selling a future work from this client. The author has a great way of nailing characters who are gray-area bad guys but end up being perversely likable. That’s mastery. I’m patient—as is the author.

So no unblemished record for me this year. C’est la vie!